Smart Grid for Low Income Consumers

47% of low income consumers surveyed affirmed their acceptance of smart grid – a full three percentage points higher than the general population.
Published: Sat 06 Oct 2012

A US Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) survey of how low income electricity consumers interact with the new smart grid suggests low-incomers are surprisingly amenable to smart grid offerings. In fact, 47% of low income consumers surveyed affirmed their acceptance of smart grid – a full three percentage points higher than that for the general population.

What happened

Utilities have long grappled with the question of whether low income customers present a problem or an opportunity.

But the newly published results of a SGCC-conducted survey promise to shed light on these and other questions, and have produced a data set that has the industry talking. Moreover, the survey results lay bare the flaws in commonly held perceptions about the group, writes Jeff St John at Green Tech Media (GTM). 

Background

The ongoing economic slowdown in the US has brought poverty levels to the highest the country has experienced in decades. In 2012, low income consumers continue to constitute a growing percentage of many US utilities’ customer bases.

Other than surveys recording energy use and behavior of low income consumers, no other research has attempted to learn about their views and opinions about smart grid.

The survey explored the views and needs of low income consumers as they relate to grid modernization, energy management, and the environment. More particularly, the study sought the following:

  • gauge low income consumers’ awareness and understanding of the smart grid
  • determine how they receive information and their preferred communication methods
  • assess the appeal of smart grid benefits and smart meter-enabled programs

The study found the attitudes and perceptions to smart grid among low income consumers to be largely reflective of the general population. However, as GTM’s St John remarks, “Hold the prepay plans, but serve up robo-calls to help people turn down power to save money.”

Mixed bag of results

  • A total 47% said YES to smart pricing: 35% “probably” would sign up for a time-of-use (TOU) pricing plan, and 12% “definitely” would. That’s actually 3% higher than the 44% support found in general population.
  • A significantly lower percentage of low income consumers have a basic or complete understanding of smart grid and smart meters as compared to the general population.
  • For communication preferences, low income consumers may be interest in managing their power use if they can do so via automated telephonic messages.
  • Low income consumers dislike prepay, or pay-as-you-go, programs that charge them in advance for power – 7% were definitely interested and 20% probably interested.

Of hardships, economic misfortunes, and smart energy …

In August 2012, Olga Belogolova at the National Journal reported that despite the scorching summer, and the corresponding pressures on the power grid, Americans have been fortunate to suffer no blackouts or brownouts, or urgent pleas by utilities for customers to conserve energy.

And the most pertinent reason for this fortunate turn of events:

  • A sluggish economy equals a reduced demand for electricity equals a manageable power grid.
  • Improvements made to the grid in recent years make it easier for utilities to distribute electricity smarter and more efficiently.

We need outreach programs

Overwhelmingly, the study has shown that goals of saving money and using less energy appear to ring true no matter how much money people make.

The Energy Collective’s Jim Pierobon calls for more effective outreach to low income consumers. On the hand, the research results augur well for continued progress for smart grid deployment. However, the knowledge and support of low income consumers could tip the scales in the battle between utilities and anti-smart grid activists. 

Writes Pierobon, “Low-income consumers deserve the customized communications just as much as other segments of the population are starting to receive.”  Perhaps language adjustments for specific groups are a good place to start.

The LAST word!

All the marvelous potential advances smart grid has and will bring the electricity landscape would be reduced to insignificance if utilities and technological developers neglect to shape them around the customer preferences. 

Sources

Green Tech Media: What low income customers want from smart grid

Energy Collective: Are low income consumers slowing smart grid growth? Hardly

National Journal: Smart Grid, Poor Economy Keeps Power on During Hottest Summer

Smart grid CC: Consumer Survey .pdf